by Andrew S. Muñoz
photos by David Sharp
If you ask anyone who’s been around Boulder City for a while about Willow Beach, you’ll most certainly be regaled with fond memories of fishing and picnicking. Willow Beach, just thirteen miles downstream of Hoover Dam, has been a destination for Boulder City residents since the dam connected Southern Nevada with northwest Arizona.
The quiet peace of the Colorado River at Willow Beach is different than the seasonal river flows of centuries past. While the river has been tamed, the natural scenery is as wild and beautiful as ever.
The Hoover Dam transformed the Colorado River from its reddish silty flow into the cold and clear river known today. It’s also these conditions that turned the Willow Beach area into a popular fishing camp.
As a kid in the 1960s, Boulder City native and Lake Mead National Recreation Area Park Planner Jim Holland remembers spending Sunday afternoons picnicking at Willow Beach.
“We’d go as a family for three or four hours, picnic and walk around. We went there more than any place in Lake Mead. Going to Willow Beach was a part of growing up in Boulder City,” says Holland.
Time, floods, and dam traffic took its toll on the area. Flash floods destroyed the Willow Beach campground in 1979 and by the mid-1990s the motel and trailer village were closed due to flood danger. With the increased security measures and heavy traffic on the dam, the 23-mile drive from Boulder City could take over two hours.
By the time the park started planning the redevelopment of Willow Beach in 1992, Holland says the area was badly in need of a facelift. The redevelopment plan was completed in 1995, but sat on the shelf until funding became available eleven years later in 2006 through the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act. The act permitted the use of money from the sale of federal lands in the Las Vegas Valley to be used for capital improvement projects within the recreation area.
“We were fortunate that federal land sale money could be used for this project,” said Holland who thought that perhaps he might never see the development plans he’d worked on implemented because of funding constraints.
The newly remodeled area includes a new fishing pier, campground, RV-park, store and café. Forever Resorts is the National Park Service concessionaire operating visitor services at Willow Beach.
“It’s an exciting time for us. If you haven’t been to Willow Beach lately you have two good reasons: the new bypass bridge makes it a quick trip and the redevelopment has made it an even more beautiful place,” said Zane Boyster, general manager of Willow Beach Marina and Black Canyon River Adventures.
Holland recalls that in the early days of Willow Beach the restaurant walls were covered in photos of visitors and their fish catches. Fishing remains the major theme at Willow Beach. He says that it’s the reason that the waterfront trail was put in and why the new store and café building has a smaller footprint in order to provide better access to the shoreline.
On any given weekend you’ll find families enjoying the shaded picnic tables along the shoreline trail and fisherman on the new fishing pier reeling in stripers and trout. For Holland seeing this project from concept to reality has been as he says, “pretty satisfying.”
Campsites are $25/night and full hookup RV sites are $35/night
For campground or RV park reservations call: 928-767-4747 or www.willowbeachmarina.com
For raft trip reservations call 702-294-1414 or visit www.blackcanyonriveradventures.com
Willow Beach lies in a flash flood prone area, a large part of the redevelopment project involved moving visitor overnight accommodations to higher ground and installing channels to direct flood waters away from visitor areas.
The earliest evidence of human activity in the area dates back to 250 B.C.E. when it’s believed the Basketmaker Indians from Lost City camped at Willow Beach.
Lt. Joseph Christmas Ives and the crew of the Explorer are credited with being the first to navigate the stretch of Colorado River near Willow Beach in 1858.